Sunday, December 12, 2021

Film review: "Don't Look Up" (2021)

After the less than stellar reviews that have been piling up this week for Don't Look Up, I went into the theater Friday afternoon a little concerned that I'd have a hard time objectively assessing my reaction to it. I had such optimistic expectations as recently as Tuesday. But I didn't want to let that get in the way, so I weathered a snowstorm to and from the theater and did my best to pretend it was just any other movie. I'm pretty sure I succeeded. 

By now most of us know that the story follows astronomers Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) and Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) as they attempt to warn the world that the comet they discovered is going to collide with Earth. Meryl plays the president of the United States, whose preoccupation with polls, appearances, and power screen her from reacting with the urgency and intelligence necessary to save the planet. 

I'll admit that the first twenty to thirty minutes of the movie felt a little hectic (not just because the plot involved a hectic and stressful discovery), in that the scenes seemed to shift tone a little too rapidly, and the editing didn't give me a chance to appreciate any kind of real feeling for what the main characters were up against. This cooled down a little when I settled into a sense of irritation at how much of a blockade there was to simply explaining to the people in power what was going on. This was a combination of the inability of the scientists to concisely explain things in laymen's terms, as well as the government officials' banal approach to listening. It was eerily and maddeningly representative of what the onset of the pandemic felt like every time I read or watched the news (I know, first mistake). I realize that this script was originally intended to parallel the climate crisis (and it still is), but the parallels with Covid felt particularly prescient, even now. Especially now. 

Cate Blanchett plays TV host Bree Evante, a Fox News-like android of a person with her blazingly white teeth, blonde hair, and hot bod. She sparks an affair with Dr. Mindy, and pretty much becomes an easy character to despise. She did a great job. As did Mark Rylance as the tech CEO at superdonor to President Orlean. His bleaty voice was super creepy and effective, and I thought he was second-best in show. Tops for me was DiCaprio, whom we never get to see play the anxious nerd. He always comes across as such a cool guy, and his characters are typically important, or suave, or unflappable. Not so with the pill-popping Dr. Mindy, who absolutely made me anxious with his hand-wringing and panting whenever things got heavy. DiCaprio's negotiation of those behaviors was far more nuanced than how I'm explaining them I'm sure, but suffice it to say that he nailed the role and manged to keep me in his corner despite his off-putting idiosyncrasies and poor personal choices. I think he might get nominated. 

Let's chat a bit about Meryl. She's been in the conversation for recognition in the Best Supporting Actress race. Those chances drastically went down following this week's tepid critical reviews. I actually feel a little less bad about the reviews after seeing the movie because, while Meryl is of course excellent, the role doesn't really pack the kind of punch I would expect for her usual nominations. We all know that her role as president Orlean is sort of an amalgam of the last five or six presidents. It's probably disingenuous to suggest that the majority of the traits don't most resemble Trump, but I did appreciate the whole "I need to hide my smoking or it'll hurt me in the polls" thing (which I think was something taken from Obama). Streep's character definitely pissed me off, with her cavalier disregard (thank you, Prada) for the safety of American and world citizens. She and Jonah Hill play off each other pretty well. He plays her son and chief of staff, Jason, whom Hill accurately describes as "if Fyre Festival were a person." His character also awkwardly sexualizes his commander-in-chief mother, something Hill has explained he pulled from Donald Trump's creepy tendency to do so with his own daughter. You can tell Hill and Meryl had a good time with each other, and while not all of the comedy landed for me, I found myself giggling regularly. 


Not my favorite scene but there aren't many out there yet. I told my friend Scooter that I thought the movie improved as it went on. Kate and Dr. Mindy sort of give up on trying to convince the powers that be of the gravity of the situation, and they sort of go rogue in their attempts to warm the world. I don't want to give away any major spoilers, but by the last quarter of the movie, I actually started to feel a bit sad for the characters. Say what you will about some of the unevenness of the screenplay, the dinner table scene with Lawrence, DiCaprio (and his character's wife and sons), Timothée Chalamet and Rob Morgan, was touching, and seemed particularly effective during the holiday season. 

I didn't really have a problem with some of the political bent being a bit on the nose. I suspect there are going to be people who see this film who actually do not realize how it's meant to be an allegory for climate change. It seems like it should be obvious, but sadly, that's the nature of the American movie-goer. Others will bemoan being hit over the head by the film's message of overt inaction on the part of lawmakers. I, for one, don't see much wrong with smugness on the part of a filmmaker when the stakes and level of willful ignorance are equally and dangerously high.

It'll be a toss up whether or not this film sneaks into the top ten for Best Picture. I think director is out of the question. DiCaprio may still has a chance, as mentioned. I'll be interested to see happens with the Golden Globe and Critics Choice nominations Monday morning.  


  1. I watched it over the weekend too. I thought the standouts were Blanchett and DiCaprio. The movie itself was a bit of a letdown because it tends to drag on without much suspense or reason. Sad to say, I thought this is NOT one of Meryl's best, maybe because her character arc was one-note or maybe because I expected more from her. Best Supporting Actress ain't gonna happen for her for sure.

    1. Yeah, in some ways it felt like Meryl's role was one that was more attractive for participating in a film with specific message than the role being a particularly meaty one. I think of Suffragette or The Giver (to lesser degrees). Loved watching her of course, but the character didn't have an overwhelming amount to do.

  2. She has been in so many Golden Globes best pictures, either in drama or comedy. She's always in awards consideration, like every year! It's already a miracle.